Ralph is changed by his experiences on the island. How does Golding show this?
The Lord of the Flies is a book written by William Golding published in 1954. It deals with the possibility of a group of evacuated boys crash landing on a desert island and observes how they struggle to not only stay alive but to get rescued and most centrally live together. One of the first characters we meet is that of Ralph, he is twelve years old and has fair hair. I hope to investigate this character in more detail; I hope to be able to understand more about him and specifically how he changes throughout the story and the ways in which Golding portrays him.
Early on Ralph is described as being a fair-haired boy and his physique makes it look as though “he might make a boxer”. He makes friends with Piggy very early on and for much of the book these two appear to have a bond that is not shown between other characters. Ralph is portrayed as sporting, decent and honourable but not possessed of any great intelligence, imagination or conviction, skills that contribute to his downfall on the island. Although he has obvious strength he is said to have “a mildness about his face and eyes that proclaimed no devil”. This could be seen as ironic because his main rival for leadership, Jack, has red hair, symbolic for blood, hell and the devil – these qualities do emerge from Jack as the story goes on. Ralph’s dad is in the Royal Navy and has presumably travelled a great deal, a number of times Ralph wishes to return to the described image of his middle-class home. His dad’s involvement in the forces may also give reason to his views on cleanliness, which are not normal for boys his age.
Throughout the book events show Ralph’s strengths and weaknesses and also give us a better insight into his character. Early on he and Piggy discover a conch, which is blown to attract the others; this is the first moment when we are able to appreciate the difference in character. Piggy sees it and realises it is “ever so valuable” and has a knowledge of such things from his childhood, however it takes Ralph a while to realise it’s potential to “call the others…have a meeting”. Piggy then asks, “That’s why you got the conch out the water?” implying he had thought that all along and was surprised at the slow response from Ralph who is then the one who does call the meeting and elected leader. This pattern of ‘thinker’ Piggy and ‘do-er’ Ralph continues. Ralph has to quickly come to terms with being chief and it is debatable as to how successful he is although many would agree that he failed to capture the group and motivate and command them, as soon as he is elected chief he is immediately unable to “decide what to do straight off”, this lack of direction affects him greatly as over time the group start leaning toward Jack as their preferred leader as he has a greater vision although with this comes with his strident manner.
In my opinion the principal event that affected Ralph’s standing on the island was the balance between work and play, Ralph offers the opportunity to live well on the island and the possibility of rescue in the form of the huts, the toilet area and most importantly the signal fire. Jack on the other hand offers enjoyment and fun in the form of adventures and hunting, this appeals to the littluns who soon start following him with his dictatorial way of doing things, perhaps because they see him as a farther figure and miss the authority and direction they were given by parents at home.
Slowly his tribe that was united at the beginning of their stay on this island splits apart and many other characters join Jack’s tribe as they realise that although they prefer Ralph’s quiet authority the ‘get-up-and-go’ exhibited by Jack appeals to them. One by one many of the littluns leave him, Rodger parts company with Ralph and eventually samaneric also go, leaving little more than Ralph and Piggy on their own again. Piggy’s decision to stay with Ralph is an interesting one, he has a scientific mind and is not taken in by shallow promises and the ineffectiveness of Jack’s tribe, he sees that what Ralph is trying to do is beneficial and worth while and Piggy’s mind is affected much more by what Ralph is trying to do as oppose to his leadership skills and oratory ability, in the same way that he would be affected by a political parties’ policies and not by spin and persuasive speeches. Soon though Piggy dies and Ralph is to be hunted down, however Piggy’s bequest to be able to think more deeply is ultimately responsible for his survival when he avoids being captured by the hunters.
By the time Ralph stumbles to the ground at the feet of the naval officer who is there to rescue them he is a changed boy from the one that giggled about the farting sound of the conch. He has seen before him the way in which man can degenerate from 7-12 year old schoolboys to savage murderers and this no doubt had a profound impact on him. Although he was not that confident at commanding a group at the start of the book he did seem confident in himself and as though he had an iron personality that could not be broken. By the end of the book he is literally running for his life, everyone has deserted him and he has lost his greatest ally – Piggy.
Early on many of the boys on the island had a lot of respect for him, they elect him as chief due to his ability to call the meeting, they described him as, “him with the shell”, these are the people who later try to kill him, he has lost all respect, in my opinion the worst thing that could have happened to Ralph on that island is that he was elected leader. It is also interesting that at the end of the book samaneric, two boys who Ralph would have thought of as being allies betray him and reveal his position to Jack, this is symbolic of the big picture of how the two groups have split, Ralph is now left on his own to defend for himself and Jack’s tribe do what they left Ralph’s tribe to do, have ‘fun’, although this had degenerated to savagery. All Ralph’s weaknesses have been expressed in the way he has physical strength but when it comes to commanding people he is weak and never appeared to have a firm grasp upon anybody on that island when he was chief.
In conclusion I feel that it is certainly true that Ralph is the character who changes the most throughout the story. His world changes shape entirely and friendships are won and then lost through either being stolen by Jack or killed. In my opinion he was a good leader to the likes of Piggy and Simon but the littluns needed adventure and someone to promise them home and the comfort that brings, Ralph could not do this as he was too realistic and wanted to build signal fires and huts. Jack did make these promises although did nothing about them yet this still attracted the littluns and hunting was appealing to them all. It is significant that it was Ralph’s signal fire that eventually got them rescued showing that what he was doing was correct it’s just he did it in the wrong way.